2 thoughts on “LitHub

  1. My father, Joe Chrenko, was the B25 pilot the character, Hungry Joe was based on. Joe Heller served as a bombardier on my dad’s plane. In 1963-64 he and my dad reuinited to provide background photos and details to Columbia Pictures ( who eventually sold the rights to Paramount) for the original Catch-22 film.

    Julius Fish’s experiences parallel my father’s to a “T”. In fact, in Chapter 6 of Catch 22 – it is Hungry Joe who is trying to get home. Here’s a synopsis: “Although Hungry Joe has already flown his fifty missions, the orders to send him home never come, and he continues to scream at night. Doc Daneeka ignores Hungry Joe’s problems and instead complains about having been forced to leave his clinic”. And we know that Yossarian was also trying to get home for the same reason.

    I have a feeling a lot of pilots and bombardiers from the group were facing similar problems trying to go home. Sorry to say, there is no way Julius Fish is the sole inspiration for Yossarian (real name, Francis Yohannan). But it’s a great article on the bomber group from Catch-22.


    1. Hi David – thanks for reaching out. Your father and my grandfather certainly did seem to be friends during the war. In my grandfather’s diary he notes on December 17, 1944 that your father had left for Naples and was going home and my grandfather lists his friend’s addresses in the back of his diary, with contact information for your father at his Irvington address.

      There are two references to your father that I have come across in my research. I’m sure you’re aware of the first which is from Joseph Heller’s autobiography, Now and Then (page 176), where Heller notes, “In Yohannan’s tent also lived the pilot Joe Chrenko, a pilot I was especially friendly with, who later, in several skimpy ways, served as the basis for the character Hungry Joe in Catch-22.” The other is from a letter Heller wrote to Simon & Schuster ahead of the novel’s publication in 1961 (this letter in included in the Heller Collection at Brandeis University), where Heller notes (Hungry Joe) “bears considerable resemblance, I realize now, to a pilot in my squadron whose name was Joe Chrenko. Chrenko was given a medal for cracking up a plane whose landing gear would not come down; later on he admitted that he had forgotten to try the emergency landing gear procedure. Chrenko did fly the courier ship on occasions. In addition, he suffered from nightmares and shared a tent with a man who had a pet dog. In other respects, Hungry Joe is no more like Chrenko than like me.”

      Similarly, Heller ends his description for Yossarian with a “no more than like me” type statement. About Yossarian, Heller notes, “As I have mentioned to you, there was in my squadron a bombardier named Yohannan who was called by the nickname “Yo-Yo”. In no other respects was he like Yossarian, whose actions are based more on my own attitudes and experiences than on anybody else’s.

      I appreciate the pun in your “major” stretch comment, however I do not claim my grandfather to be the sole inspiration for Yossarian.

      Heller states clearly which elements of Yossarian are from Yohannan (the name) and which elements are from himself (specifically the episode attending to a wounded comrade in his plane which became the basis for the episodes where Yossarian attends to Snowden in the novel, and an interaction Yossarian has with Luciana). The primary aspect he did not reference as coming from a fellow comrade are Yossarian’s efforts to get out of flying more missions. Speaking at the New York Public Library on August 31, 1998, Heller stated ““I have a confession to make…in my war experience I did not experience anything like Catch-22. I was young, it was a noble war, nobody I knew really objected to fighting in it, and I had no complaints about serious officers.” (see clip of this in my blog entry – https://yossarianlived.com/2019/01/11/i-have-a-confession/ – ~33 minutes into the video) Further, when told on October 29, 1944 that they would have to fly more than 60 missions, the 488th Bomber Squadron war diary notes that “the crews didn’t take it too bad.” (see https://yossarianlived.com/2019/02/20/finito-the-mission-limit/). Additionally, Joseph Heller discussed the raising of the mission limit in Now and Then (page 185) in speaking about the new “replacement” soldiers that joined him in his tent, “And soon after that, I was finished. I was alive and I was well. In that photograph I spoke of earlier of the five of us in the tent exists a huge and invisible divide between me and the others. I was through and they, particularly the two newcomers, now faced more missions to fly to survive, because the official number for those still on combat status, at lease in our bomber group, had lately been raised. How did they feel about that? As casually oblivious and indifferent, I’d guess, as I had felt in midcourse when the number had been raised first from fifty to fifty-five and then to sixty. For them, it was up to seventy.” As such, while your father and others may have objected to the continued raising of the mission limit, this clearly was not a consensus view.

      To summarize, while Heller identifies inspirations for most of the characters in Catch-22, he says little about the sources for Yossarian. If you know of anyone else who matches Yossarian’s description in the novel (i.e. approximately 28 years old), was a bombardier on the missions to La Spezia, Ferrara, Avignon and avoided the Bologna missions, who flew on at least 60 missions, was irritated by the raising of the mission limits, and who actively sought to find a way out for themselves (i.e. evading missions and seeking a medical diagnosis), please do let me know. We have also performed research going the other way (i.e. starting with the bombardiers stationed on Corsica during this time and seeing if anyone else has these traits) and have found no one else who fits the mold.

      Please let me know if you have any references to or pictures of my grandfather in your father’s items.


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